Communication key to 'senior spring'

Friday, May 2, 2014

Already into college but not yet out of high school. That is the burden of more than a few 12th graders struggling to reconcile the tasks of finishing childhood and starting adulthood -- perhaps making senior spring feel to them like, well, the duration of childhood all over again.

While this season of discontent may ultimately smooth the transition to college, impending independence can present some challenging times for teens and parents alike.

It's not an easy task, especially given the theme of conflict that may permeate even the most solid parent-teen relationship given the stressors embedded in transition.

Conflict during senior year is rooted in a complex context of events (including SATs and college applications), mental states (including stress, anxiety, and depression), and behaviors (including underage drinking and other drug use). By extension, trust is often eroded by a slowdown, or in some cases a shutdown, in open, honest communication, creating a cycle of turmoil that leaves many kids anxious to escape and many parents eager to help them.

A healthy transition for kids and parents requires a mutual understanding of, and an appreciation for, the developmental dilemma on each side of the relationship, whether it's a young person's desire for more freedom or a parent's difficulty in letting go.

Effective, results-oriented, parent-child communication around the myriad of issues that accompany senior year, perhaps especially in the spring, can go a long way toward resolving conflict, restoring trust, and rescuing relationships that may be frayed and close to coming apart at the seams.

Like all good negotiation, both parties must be open to listening to the other's point of view and to compromise. Of course, there will remain parental prerogatives that are non-negotiable, particularly those related to health, safety, and the law.

As senior year draws to a close, parents must contend with a series of events that are commonly associated with alcohol and other drug use: spring vacation, prom, and graduation.

Even for young people on the brink of independence, parents play a vital role in keeping them safe and alive during this particularly dangerous stretch of time.

Senior spring is, and should be, a time of reflection and anticipation -- of looking back while preparing to move forward. Helping teens to celebrate the season safely will ultimately get them to where they are about to go.